I must confess that I’m a sucker for television shows about vampires. (Pun intended.) And of course, I love movies and books that feature my favorite monster, too. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was the first horror novel I ever read. NBC’s re-imagining of this classic tale is different in many ways. (Actually, it differs in pretty much every way.) Six episodes in, with four to go, I’ve decided I’m committed to watching the rest of the first season – but not because the series is scary or shocking. Aside from a few scenes in the first episode, there hasn’t been much horror to witness. The main reason I enjoy the show is due to the fact that Dracula is being played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (of “The Tudors” fame). This British-American production was filmed in Budapest, and I love the atmosphere, lavish sets, sumptuous costumes and the promise of a doomed gothic romance. So sue me.
In Romania in 1881, we first see Vlad Tepes as he’s being resurrected with a blood sacrifice by – surprise! – Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann). Apparently, Van Helsing has a bone to pick with a secret society known as the Order of the Dragon. He needs Dracula’s help to destroy them, knowing they were responsible for torturing the once powerful ruler known as Vlad Tepes and turning him into a vampire. Flash forward about fifteen years – the Count has arrived in London posing as a wealthy American businessman, Alexander Grayson. Van Helsing is a professor teaching medicine at a university and one of his star pupils is none other than Mina Murray (not yet married to Jonathan Harker). Mina (Jessica De Gouw) is a feminist with aspirations of becoming a doctor. Jonathan (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a reporter looking to climb the social ladder of success and Alexander Grayson gives him the opportunity. (Of course, Dracula has noticed that his employee’s fiancée looks exactly like his own late wife, Ilona.) I have never liked the character of Jonathan Harker and my opinion hasn’t changed. He’s supposed to be the good guy, but he comes across as wimpy, priggish and boring. (As my mother would tell you, I’ve always been more attracted to the bad guys – a serious flaw she happens to share.)
In this TV version, Jonathan and the Count aren’t the only ones in love with the beautiful Mina. Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath) tries unsuccessfully to hide her true feelings for her best friend, while Mina tries to hide her growing attraction to Alexander Grayson. As for the Order of the Dragon, they have their top vampire hunter in bed with Dracula – literally. Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit) is good with a sword, but she isn’t so good at relationships. I found it funny instead of ironic that she doesn’t know her lover is the vampire making snacks out of London’s prostitutes. Lust has made her blinder than a bat, and I think her bitchy, bad-ass character should be smarter. It’s not like the Count has “glamoured” her into believing he’s a warm-blooded human being. (As far as I can tell, this Dracula can’t shape-shift either, or turn into mist.)
In an interview I recently saw, Rhys Meyers said his Dracula was “a manifestation of pain and loss.” The show is mainly about betrayal and revenge.
Alexander Grayson is a charming con man. He plays mind games to gain Lady Jayne’s trust, knowing she is a member of the Order of the Dragon. One would think Dracula would destroy the secret society by finding each of the members and ripping their heads off, but his plan is more practical and long-term. The entrepreneur wants to wage an economic war and destroy their finances by coming up with a new energy source to devalue their oil interests. (Really, when I think about it, Dracula doesn’t seem nearly as evil as the diabolical J.R. Ewing.) The Count’s allies do their best to help him achieve this goal. Van Helsing works tirelessly on a serum that will allow Dracula to walk about during the daylight hours. An ex-lawyer, the loyal, intelligent Renfield (played by African-English actor Nonso Anozie) protects his boss at all costs, and the two share a solid friendship. (In this incarnation, Renfield is not a cockroach-eating lunatic.)
I think the right actors were cast in the right roles and I have no problem with their acting abilities. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jessica De Gouw have good chemistry. The smoldering looks they share are believable, and I have to admit that’s the main reason I tune in every Friday night. I want to see Mina betray Harker and enjoy it. Of course, this is supposed to be a “limited” series and one would expect for Dracula to be bested in the end by the good guys – although members of the Order of the Dragon come across as the true villains in this show.
The bottom line? If what you want to see is true horror, explicit violence and sex, you should look elsewhere (HBO or Showtime?). This series is more of a cross between “Downton Abbey” and “Dallas.”